A new book of photographs by Carrell Augustus – Black Hollywood: Reimagining Iconic Movie Moments – puts black actors and actresses at the center of some of Hollywood’s most iconic film images.
TO MARTINEZ, HOST:
A new photography book places black actors and actresses at the center of some of Hollywood’s most iconic film images. NPR’s Marc Rivers has the story.
MARC RIVERS, BYLINE: The images should be familiar to any Hollywood fan. A man with an umbrella hangs from a lamppost, his glow illuminating both the rain and the joy on his face. A woman in the shower, framed close-up, yells at an unseen attacker. A man in uniform waves to an audience in front of a giant American flag. In your head, you should imagine Gene Kelly in “Singin’ In The Rain”…
(SOUNDTRACK FROM THE MOVIE, “SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN”)
GENE KELLY: (As Don Lockwood, vocals) I sing in the rain, I just sing in the rain.
RIVERS: …Janet Leigh in “Psycho”…
(SOUNDTRACK FROM THE MOVIE, “PSYCHO”)
JANET LEIGH: (As Marion Crane, screaming).
RIVERS: …George C. Scott in “Patton.”
(SOUNDTRACK FROM THE MOVIE, “PATTON”)
GEORGE C SCOTT: (As Gen. George. S. Patton) Americans traditionally like to fight. All true Americans love the sting of battle.
RIVERS: But open photographer Carrell Augustus’ new book, ‘Black Hollywood: Reimagining Iconic Movie Moments,’ and instead you’ll see actor Dule Hill under this lamp. The screaming woman is actor Simbi Khali, and that man in uniform is more of a woman, actress Aisha Hinds. In the book, Augustus cast black actors and actresses in some of cinema’s most memorable moments, placing them in spaces that have long been denied them. He says that omission persisted into the 1980s, when he grew up watching mainstream hits like “Back To The Future” and “Say Anything.”
CARRELL AUGUSTUS: We have been excluded from these stories. And a lot of times when we saw each other in those stories, we were, you know, being arrested or in a jail scene or in a gang scene. And I just wanted to do whatever I could to change the narrative, visually and artistically.
RIVERS: Augustus took his first photo for the project in 2010, before Black Lives Matter, before #OscarsSoWhite, before ‘Black Panther’. He knew that some people might view the book as a reaction to these events.
AUGUSTUS: At times, I found myself in tandem with these movements, and I just embraced it.
RIVERS: What stands out the most from the book is that you won’t find stars like Denzel Washington or Angela Bassett here, not that Augustus didn’t choose them.
AUGUSTUS: When I started this book, my fantasy was to have all the Black A-listers in Hollywood, right? And then I realized that if I did that, I’d probably have 11 people.
RIVERS: He’s expanded his network, finding artists who may not be household names but have built a healthy portfolio of credits, like Neil Brown Jr., who you might know as Lawrence’s best friend, Chad, on “Insecure”.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, “INSECURE”)
JAY ELLIS: (As Lawrence Walker) Chad, are you throwing a purse (laughs)?
NEIL BROWN JR: (As Chad Kerr) This is my fiancée’s purse. She didn’t want to wear it in the port-a-potty. [Expletive] Dear. I know because I bought it.
RIVERS: In the book, Brown stars as John McClane in ‘Die Hard’, pushing his way through a tight air vent, blood and an exasperated look on his face.
BROWN: I was trying to imagine everything that John had been through up to that point and, you know, imagine what the whole movie was about, but, like, drive it into this moment.
RIVERS: Brown says the project helped solidify his sense of kinship with fellow actors. Ditto for Amber Stevens West, who graces the book cover in a sultry black satin gown as Audrey Hepburn’s character in “Breakfast At Tiffany’s.”
(SOUND EXTRACTION OF HENRY MANCINI SONG, “MOON RIVER”)
RIVERS: A supporting actor in entertainment like ‘New Girl’ and ’22 Jump Street,’ West says a pivotal role like Hepburn’s wasn’t possible when she started her career.
AMBER STEVENS WEST: It’s really the story of a lot of black people in Hollywood, where they’re typecast as, like, the friend and they sort of fill a role like, like, the diversity piece in the project.
RIVERS: And then there’s Aisha Hinds’ General Patton…
(SOUNDBITE OF JERRY GOLDSMITH “MAIN TITLE/GERMAN ADVANCE (FROM ‘PATTON’)”)
RIVERS: … The first photo taken by Auguste and also the first in the book. Hinds substitutes Scott’s withered gaze and granite posture for a knowing smile, a gleam in his eyes, a sinuous curve at the hips. She brings a bit of swagger and a bit of sex appeal to patriotism. She told me it was no coincidence.
AISHA HINDS: I think the superpower of a black woman is to occupy the space and the fullness of who she is. And, you know, we don’t have to deny our sex appeal to operate that strong.
RIVERS: A veteran of shows like ‘The Shield’, ‘True Blood’ and ‘Shots Fired’, his best role to date may have been on WGN’s ‘Underground’, playing great abolitionist Harriet Tubman. This role fits well here. Hinds says her take on Patton can remind people that black women have always been leaders in the fight for this country.
HINDS: We’re constantly at war with so many things, and we’re constantly taking on the scars and wounds of battle, you know, and people are constantly looking to black women to lead armies of change.
RIVERS: Unlike movements like #OscarsSoWhite, Augustus doesn’t see his book as a force for change, but he hopes it will subvert people’s expectations. And by placing these actors in images sacred to Hollywood’s idea of itself, it implies that these images also belong to black people. When you see the first Miss Black America, Vanessa Williams, sitting majestically and magnificently on a throne as Cleopatra, you feel good.
AUGUSTUS: What I want from this book is for people to finally see and realize that we should also be seen as a norm.
RIVERS: And he says things have improved in the industry since he started working on the book. Augustus is working on a Part II. Maybe by the time he’s done, the standard he envisioned might be closer to reality.
Marc Rivers, NPR News.
(SOUND EXTRACTION FROM “BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY’S” BY HENRY MANCINI)
NPR transcripts are created in peak time by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative recording of NPR’s programming is the audio recording.